Mount Zion or Hinnom: Heaven or Hell?

This is a rather pretty picture of the old city of Jerusalem. In the foreground is the Hinnom Valley, in the background, Mount Zion. In fact, it is an incredibly significant picture, and one that requires a decision from every human being alive. Heaven or hell? The pretty picture above is in fact a depiction of both.

The Hinnom Valley used to be much deeper. With the passing of time and discarding of rubbish, its floor rose. It has a sinister history. It was the place where some of the wicked kings of Judah sacrificed their children to pagan deities: In Jeremiah 7 we read ‘And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not’. In 2 Kings 23:10 we are told the place was defiled as a place of worship to Moloch, a foul Canaanite deity.

Rabbi David Kimhi taught that the valley was the city’s rubbish dump which was so busy that the fires were continually burning in order to consume its constantly replenished contents. It was also a place of burial- early tombs are found there, and judging by the archaeology, it was where the Roman Tenth Legion cremated the bodies after Jerusalem’s fall in AD70.

So, it was a place of execution, of unnatural cruelty, of the worship of false gods and a depository of all that was unclean and unfit for purpose. In summary, it was a place that stank of death, both spiritual and physical.

The Hebrew name for the valley, Ge Hinnom, was translated Ge'enna into Greek and Gehenna into English. It is the word the Jesus uses in Matthew’s gospel for ‘hell’. For example, 10:28: "....rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."

The picture of the pretty parkland is therefore all the more ironic. Or is it in fact appropriate? So many people ignore the gospel, one must wonder at the apparent attractiveness of hell.

It is easy descending into the valley of Hinnom. Zion, on the other hand, proved to be a steep hill to climb. In the Bible, the Temple Mount is sometimes called Zion, as is the nearby City of David area. The southwestern hill, photographed, was given the name from at least the first century. In other words, Zion refers not just to one particular hill, but to all that is holy about Jerusalem. Indeed, it is a picture of heaven itself.

Psalm 9:11 says ‘Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!’ and Isaiah 51:11 ‘So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’

In other words, Mount Zion is a glimpse of Hinnom’s alternative- the dwelling place of God and the destination of every saint.

Look again at the picture and make your choice. Which will it be? The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, with its filthy heritage and grim future, or the Hill of Zion with its radiant King and joy unspeakable. Yes, it requires a steep climb, and you’ll sometimes be out of breath. But don’t tarry in the valley:

Set up the standard toward Zion. Take refuge! Do not delay! For I will bring disaster from the north, And great destruction.

Jeremiah 4:6